New York Jets positional preview 2021: Offensive line

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

No matter who plays quarterback for the New York Jets in 2021, they’re going to need someone blocking for them.

The Position: Offensive Line
On the Roster: Greg Van Roten, Conor McDermott, Connor McGovern, Jimmy Murray, Mekhi Becton, Cameron Clark, Chuma Edoga, George Fant, Alex Lewis
Free Agents: Pat Elflein, Josh Andrews
Reserve/Future: N/A

If Joe Douglas made one thing clear upon taking the New York Jets’ general manager spot, it was that he was going to work on an offensive line that Mike Maccagnan mostly neglected.

Save for choosing Chuma Edoga with what became the final day two pick of his tenure, Maccagan avoided building the line with his early selections. Prior to Maccagan using one of his final picks on Chuma Edoga in 2019’s third round, Brian Winters was the last blocker chosen within the draft’s first three sessions in 2013. The last premiere choices were the legendary D’Brickashaw Ferguson/Nick Mangold haul during the 2006 selections.

Once Douglas got to work in the late stages of summer 2019, he quickly let everyone know that the Jets were under management by getting to work on the line. He sent a late draft pick to Baltimore to bring in Alex Lewis and convinced Carolina mainstay Ryan Kalil to delay his retirement. While the results have been mixed…the Kalil experiment blew up and Lewis has been in and out of the starting lineup…Douglas had a plan to build the offense up.

He kept things up last season, as Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and George Fant joined the team through free agency. During his first draft, Douglas bypassed name-brand receivers like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson to take Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton. The veterans struggled, but Douglas appears to have chosen a keeper in Becton, who served as a rare silver lining during his debut campaign. Douglas didn’t stop there, taking Charlotte football’s longest-tenured player Cameron Clarke with the last of three fourth-round picks.

Becton appears to be a long-term asset in New York, but many of the deals have opt-outs after a single year. In fact, the only free agent in the entire 2020 free agency class with a dedication beyond last season is Connor McGovern. Some cap saving moves…the release of George Fant would save the team over $5 million, for example…may lead the Jets to a complete retooling of their blocking for the second straight season…with the exception of Becton at the blind side, of course.

Questions plague the Jets’ quarterback situation, as many question whether Sam Darnold will get a fourth year in the franchise thrower role. But no matter who’s throwing, the quarterback’s endeavors will be meaningless if he has no protection. There’s a long way to go to finish building the wall.

Free Agents-to-be 

G Josh Andrews

Andrews was a career-long depth man who earned a Super Bowl ring with Douglas while serving on Philadelphia’s practice squad. He was initially part of the final training camp cuts, but he returned to partake in all but one game. He even started four, including the final three when Van Roten went down, the first starts of his career.

G Pat Elflein 

Bid farewell from Minnesota in November, Elflein was a bit of a peace offering for Adam Gase when the departed head coach Adam Gase butted heads. Since Lewis has been a rare consistent prescience in the Jets’ blocking corps, it’s likely that Elflein will likely ship off in search of new opportunities.

Will They Draft?

It’s a very strong possibility. Douglas knows the importance of picking a lineman and likely won’t hesitate to use an early pick to find either an immediate contributor or a depth option that could raise the heat on any returnees. If the Jets resolve their quarterback situation prior to the draft, many have pegged Oregon standout Penei Sewell to at No. 2. Sewell skipped the entire 2020 campaign but his breakthrough sophomore showing a season prior will not be soon forgotten. But with Sewell lining in the same blindspot as Becton, the Jets will likely seek help on the right side. Thus, choosing Texas’ Sam Cosmi or the versatile Rashawn Slater of Northwestern with the Seattle pick at No. 23 or their regularly scheduled second-round choice at No. 34 seems a lot more realistic.

Veteran Possibilities

G Joe Thuney, New England

Lewis has been serviceable at left guard, but if Thuney presents himself, the Jets would likely be in the running. The Jets targeted Thuney during the last free agency period, but the Patriots put the franchise tag on him. It’s likely that Thuney is going to look for some long-term stability this time around, and the Jets certainly have the cap space to afford such a premier blocking talent.

G Brandon Scherff, Washington

Over the past few tumultuous seasons of Washington football, Scherff has been a rare consistent silver lining…when he plays, that is. The four-time Pro Bowler hasn’t played a full season since his sophomore season back in 2016 but has been a dominant prescience in the nation’s capital. Bringing him in would be the true definition of a high-risk/high-reward situation.

T Daryl Williams, Buffalo

Signed to a relatively cheap one-year deal as a depth option, Williams came up big for the Bills when injuries hit their blocking corps, namely Cody Ford. He partook in over 95 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps and became a generally reliable piece alongside fellow free agent Jon Feliciano on the right side. A former All-Pro, Williams will likely seek a bigger contract this time around, but he can be looked upon as not only a solid contributor but as a provider of veteran guidance the Jets desperately need.

Outlook

A poor offensive line can sink even the most potent of offenses. Look no further than what happened to the Kansas City Chiefs during Sunday’s Super Bowl festivities. With Eric Fisher out, Patrick Mahomes was left running for his life constantly thanks to a relentless Tampa Bay rush ordered by Todd Bowles. The onslaught undoubtedly played a factor in the Chiefs’ eventual 31-9 defeat. New York, of course, is miles further from returning to the Super Bowl, so far away that the journey is probably going to take several years. The process should with building up the blocking. Draft Becton was a good start, and it certainly seems like the Louisville product is here to stay. But there’s a long, long way to go when it comes to protecting the quarterback on a reliable basis. Not matter who’s under center, the Jets need to bolster the wall in front of him. Douglas has gotten off to a good start in filling this dire need. Further change is undoubtedly coming, but whether it’s through the draft or free agency remains to be seen.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Six Players to Watch Against the Eagles

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

With the final week of preseason games coming up the New York Jets will be resting all their starters to be prepared for week one of the regular season. Many players on the team have not yet secured a roster spot or will simply not be starting week one. With the cut day coming soon this could be the last chance these guys have to showcase their talent to the New York Jets.

Jachai Polite

Third-round pick Jachai Polite has had a rough couple of months from sliding into the third round of the draft to potentially being cut by the Jets. While it is unlikely that Polite gets cut he still needs to show some semblance of talent. Polite has been a disappointment in camp and hasn’t seen much of the field in the preseason. If Jachai Polite doesn’t show something against third-stringers on Thursday, then he might be a bigger project than anticipated.

Deontay Burnett

With a crowded wide receiver room and not many open spots, Deontay Burnett seems to be the odd man out. Burnett doesn’t offer any value on special teams like Josh Bellamy and Greg Dortch. What Burnett lacks in special teams he makes up for in chemistry with Sam Darnold. Burnett was Darnold’s favorite target at USC after Juju Smith-Schuster left for the NFL. Burnett flashed in his limited time last season and is a fan favorite but unless he can show out on Thursday it’s a coin flip on whether he’ll make the team.

Taylor Bertolet

Taylor Bertolet may have saved his job last week against the Saints hitting two field goals from 48 and 56 yards. Many people do not believe Bertolet will be on the team week 1 but he is building a strong case to make the 53-man roster. Bertolet is far from a lock to make the team but if he can muster up on last good performance, he might beat the odds and be the kicker week one.

Tevaughn Campbell

Tevaughn Campbell is one of the few players in the secondary who have done well in the preseason. Campbell led the team in tackles and PD’s against the Falcons and did his best against top wideout Michael Thomas on the Saints. If Campbell can pull off one final performance against the Eagles, then his long journey from the CFL to the NFL will be quite the Cinderella story.

Blake Cashman

After a hot start in training camp, Blake Cashman has cooled off quite a bit. Cashman hasn’t seen the field much since the Giants game due to injury, but he looked solid racking up three tackles last week against the Saints. Cashman will have one final chance to showcase his talent to the coaching staff and make his case to be starting week one. Even though its unlikely Cashman will start week one you can expect to see more of him later in the season as he develops.

Chuma Edoga

Chuma Edoga has been quite the surprise player on the New York Jets. Edoga was seen as a developmental tackle coming out of USC but he has flashed a lot potential. Edoga’s ability to play on either side of the line has impressed many fans and has earned him a spot as a backup tackle. I wonder if, by this time next year, we will be talking about Edoga being the franchise tackle this team has needed since D’Brickashaw Ferguson.